Video: Spies, lies and videotape

  1. Transcript of: Spies, lies and videotape

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: There are new details tonight about the supposed Russian spies among us. We're learning new things about who they apparently were, what secrets they were trying to steal and how they operated undercover in this country. As we hear from NBC 's Andrea Mitchell tonight, at least one of the undercover operators left a trail of videotape.

    ANDREA MITCHELL reporting: She was a New York party girl and now an Internet sensation, 28-year-old Anna Chapman , provocative, describing herself as the founder of an online real estate firm.

    Ms. ANNA CHAPMAN: I launched this business purely because I wanted to help someone.

    MITCHELL: The FBI says Chapman was actually helping her spy bosses in Moscow . At a Starbucks in midtown Manhattan , or a Barnes and Noble downtown, setting up a closed wireless network on her laptop to pass messages to her handler in a minivan parked outside. In a promotional video for a business conference , she was all sales pitch.

    Ms. CHAPMAN: But I think most challenging part of my life really started when I quit all my jobs, really cut all my salaries and really did something I wanted to do. And even though my company was much smaller than any investment bank you can imagine, it was far more challenging.

    MITCHELL: Chapman and the others didn't lack for excitement, the FBI says, using invisible ink, secret codes, and picking up thousands of dollars in cash buried upstate to finance their cover stories.

    Ms. CHAPMAN: I will show up, I will have a business meeting at 2:00.

    MITCHELL: No couple appeared more all American than two of the other suspects, Richard and Cynthia Murphy , seen here in their Montclair , New Jersey , backyard. Thirteen-year-old Blake Lapin played with their kids.

    Mr. BLAKE LAPIN: I was totally surprised. It -- out of anyone on the block, they would be the last people that you'd expect.

    MITCHELL: Today the mailman made his normal drop at the Murphys ' house while neighbors were still amazed.

    Mr. STEPHEN CAPONE (Neighbor): They never did anything out of the ordinary. I mean, there was nothing that was like suspicious or anything that was odd.

    MITCHELL: Also puzzled, American intelligence experts, wondering how the Russians expected to learn President Obama 's strategy for a Moscow summit from spies living in the New York suburbs.

    Mr. DAVID WISE (Intelligence Expert): That's the kind of information you could only get if you were a fly on the wall in the White House . I don't see how you're going to get it living in the Yonkers .

    MITCHELL: Tonight, Anna Chapman 's accused handler has disappeared, skipped bail in Cyprus . But Chapman and the others remain behind bars in the US. Andrea Mitchell , NBC News, Washington.

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 6/30/2010 7:35:19 PM ET 2010-06-30T23:35:19

Anna Chapman is an accused spy who hid in plain sight.

Social-networking sites and others are rife with images of the striking, redheaded Russian — mixing with businessmen at a conference, posing in front of the Statue of Liberty, talking about how to make it in New York.

"America is a free country, and it's the easiest place in the world to meet the most successful people," she says in an Internet video. On her Facebook page, she mused: "If you can dream, you can become it."

U.S. authorities say it was all a sham: Behind the scenes, they allege, Chapman was moonlighting as a secret agent — one of 11 suspects charged in spy case that's revived memories of the Cold War, tested American-Russian relations and made for tabloid headlines about her such as "The Spy Who Loved Us."

Though the U.S. has branded the operatives as living covertly, at least in Chapman's case, she had taken care to brand herself publicly as a striver of the digital age, passionately embracing online social networking by posting information and images of herself for the world to see.

Story: FBI: Russian spies hid codes in online photos

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz has called evidence against Chapman "devastating." She is "someone who has extraordinary training, who is a sophisticated agent of Russia," he said.

Her mother, who lives in western Moscow, said she is convinced of her daughter's innocence.

"Of course I believe that she's innocent," Irina Kushchenko told The Associated Press. She refused to comment further.

Other accounts paint a less sophisticated picture of Chapman. A banker who told the New York Post that he knew her said she gave different stories about what she did for a living.

"She told me she was a derivatives trader. I asked her one thing any derivatives trader would know, and she didn’t know what I was talking about. She was just dumb, quite frankly."

11th suspect missing
Chapman and nine others accused of being ring members were arrested across the Northeast and charged with failing to register as foreign agents, a crime that is less serious than espionage and carries up to five years in prison. Some also face money laundering charges. An 11th suspect was arrested in Cyprus, accused of passing money to the other 10 over several years. Reuters reported that the man, who was allowed to post bail, had disappeared .

Prosecutors said most of the defendants were Russians living in the U.S. under assumed names and posing as Canadian or American citizens. It was unclear how and where they were recruited, but court papers said the operation went as far back as the 1990s. Exactly what sort of information the agents are alleged to have provided to their Russian handlers — and how valuable it may have been — was not disclosed.

Some of the ring's members lived as married couples and used invisible ink, coded radio transmissions and encrypted data, the court papers allege. Some even used the Hollywood-style method of swapping bags in passing at a train station, the papers said.

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The arrests raised concerns that Moscow has planted other couples in the U.S., and Farbiarz called the arrests "the tip of the iceberg" of a conspiracy by Russia's intelligence service, the SVR, to collect information on this side of the Atlantic.

At a court hearing Monday in federal court in Manhattan, Chapman was jailed without bail. On Wednesday, court-appointed attorney Robert Baum said Chapman is being held in solitary confinement at a Brooklyn detention center.

Chapman took an apartment a block from Wall Street and began using online social networks, including LinkedIn and Facebook, to brand herself. On her LinkedIn page, Chapman is listed as the chief executive officer of PropertyFinder Ltd., which maintains a website featuring real estate listings in Moscow, Spain, Bulgaria and other countries. Her attorney said she had visited the United States on and off since 2005 before settling in Manhattan to start a business that's worth $2 million.

Internet footprints
Biographical information on Chapman on the Lifenews.ru website said she was the daughter of a Russian diplomat who at one time worked in Kenya. It said she moved to Britain after marrying a Briton whose father was Europe director for Auchan, the French supermarket chain, which operates many stores in Russia. The People's Friendship University in Russia confirmed she graduated in 2004.

One of the employers in London listed on her resume, Barclays Bank, could find no record of her working there. An aviation company where she claimed to have been employed for a year said it was only a three-month stint.

In more than 90 photos posted to Facebook, Chapman is pictured in various countries, including Turkey, where she is in one of the rooms of the luxurious Hotel Les Ottoman, in Istanbul. There are also what appear to be family photographs from Russia and photographs of her dressed in a student uniform.

Her Internet footprints also include a photo of her posing with a glass of wine between two men at the Global Technology Symposium at Stanford University in March — it cost more than $1,000 to attend — and video clips, speaking in Russian about the economic opportunities in her adopted home.

Media reports quickly branded her a femme fatale, and tabloids splashed her photos — some from Manhattan's nightlife scene — on their front pages. Steve Fox, who throws upscale matchmaking parties in the city, said she showed up a few times with other Russian women.

"She was pretty," Fox said. "I guess she wanted to meet men, just like all the other women in New York."

About her style, he said, "There were no Lady Gaga outfits on her. It was more classy."

Computer transmissions
A criminal complaint alleges that, unbeknownst to her business and social contacts, Chapman was using a specially configured laptop computer to transmit messages to another computer of an unnamed Russian official — a handler who was under surveillance by the FBI.

The laptop exchanges occurred 10 times, always on Wednesdays, until June, when an undercover FBI agent got involved, prosecutors said. The agent, posing as a Russian consulate employee and wearing a wire, arranged a meeting with Chapman at a Manhattan coffee shop, they said.

During the meeting, the undercover said he knew she was headed to Moscow in two weeks "to talk officially about your work," but before that, "I have a task for you to do tomorrow."

The task: To deliver a fraudulent passport to another woman working as a spy.

Image: Anna Chapman
AP
This undated image taken from a Facebook page shows a woman whom journalists have identified as Anna Chapman. She along with 10 others, was arrested on charges of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. attorney general.

"Are you ready for this step?" he asked.

"S---, of course," she responded.

The undercover gave her a location and told her to hold a magazine a certain way — that way, she would be recognized by a Russian agent, who would in turn confirm her identity by saying to her, "Excuse me, but haven't we met in California last summer?"

But Chapman was leery, prosecutors said.

"You're positive no one is watching?" they say she told the undercover agent after being given the instructions.

Afterward, authorities say, she was concerned enough to buy a cell phone and make a "flurry of calls" to Russia. In one of the intercepted calls, a man advised her she may have been uncovered, should turn in the passport to police and get out of the country.

She was arrested at a New York Police Department precinct after following that advice, authorities said. And her attorney pointed out Wednesday that she had not attended the meeting and had not passed on the fake passport.

Authorities say the undercover's parting words to her had been, "Your colleagues in Moscow, they know you're doing a good job. So keep it up."

Contributing to this report from The Associated Press were NBC News' Andrea Mitchell and Pete Williams.

Explainer: ‘Such a nice couple’: The spies next door

  • Image: US-RUSSIA-SPY-ARREST
    SHIRELEY SHEPARD  /  AFP - Getty Images
    This drawing dated June 28, 2010 shows five of the 10 arrested Russian spy suspects in a New York courtroom.
    It’s a tabloid editor’s dream come true: Ten people are accused of being undercover Russian spies, and one of them is even photogenic enough to deserve her own slideshow (see The New York Post’s tribute to what they are calling "Sexy Russian Spy Anna Chapman" here).

    But for the neighbors of the 10 people arrested throughout the Northeast, it's more of a nightmare. Who are these people who they had come to trust as a professor, a newspaper columnist, and an architect, among other well-respected professions? Video: FBI arrests 10 in alleged Russian spy ring


    “They’re such a nice couple,” Susan Coke, a real estate agent who sold a home in Montclair, N.J. to two of the suspects — who called themselves Richard and Cynthia Murphy — told The New Jersey Star-Ledger. “I just hope the FBI got it wrong.”

    You can read the the court filing about the alleged spy program here, and the Department of Justice's court complaint against two of the suspects, Mikhael Semenko and Anna Chapman, here.

    Information compiled by msnbc.com's Elizabeth Chuck and Ryan McCartney.

  • Anna Chapman, New York, N.Y.:

    Image: Anna Chapman
    AP
    Anna Chapman
    Dubbed the “femme fatale” of the Russian spy ring, Chapman, 28, said she was the founder of an online real estate company worth $2 million. The daughter of a Russian diplomat (whom her ex-husband dubbed "scary"), she said she had a master's in economics, was divorced and lived a socialite’s life in Manhattan’s Financial District. According to the New York Daily News, Chapman is the one who figured out the spy network was being monitored on Saturday, prompting the FBI to make the arrests Monday. Photographs and videos of her have popped all over the Internet (See a wrap-up on The Washington Post).

    Sources: New York Daily News, New York Post

  • Mikhail Vasenkov (a.k.a. 'Juan Lazaro') and Vicky Pelaez, Yonkers, N.Y.:

    Image: Vicky Pelaez
    AFP - Getty Images
    Vicky Pelaez

    Lazaro, 66, told people for decades that he was born in Uruguay and was a Peruvian citizen, but he is actually Russian and his real name is Mikhail Vasenkov. Lazaro admitted that he sent letters to the Russian intelligence service and that the Russian government paid for his house. He said that although he loved his son, he would not violate loyalty to the "Service," even for his child.

    Neighbors said they knew Lazaro to be an economics professor at a college in New Jersey. An agent for Russia for years, Lazaro brought his wife, Vicky Pelaez, into the conspiracy by having her pass letters to the Russian intelligence service on his behalf.

    Pelaez worked as a columnist for one of the United States' best-known Spanish-language newspapers, El Diario La Prensa. She had come to the U.S. after being briefly kidnapped by a leftist guerrilla group in Peru in 1984.

    Pelaez, 55, lived under her real name and was an American citizen, but now plans to return to Peru after a brief stay in Russia, according to her attorney.

    The couple has two sons: Waldomar Mariscal, 38 (Pelaez's son, Lazaro's stepson), and Juan Jose Lazaro, Jr., 17.

    Both sons told reporters shortly after the arrests that they didn't believe the allegations.

    "This looks like an Alfred Hitchcock movie with all this stuff from the 1960s. This is preposterous," Mariscal said. Of the charges, he said, "They're all inflated little pieces in the mosaic of unbelievable things."

    Source: New York Daily News, The Associated Press, The New York Times

  • Vladimir and Lydia Guryev (a.k.a. 'Richard and Cynthia Murphy'), Montclair, N.J.:

    Image: Alleged Russian Spies Live "Regular" Life In Suburban America
    Getty Images  /  Getty Images
    Richard and Cynthia Murphy

    Richard was an architect, a neighbor told The New Jersey Star-Ledger, and Cynthia had just gotten an MBA. Richard said he was from Philadelphia; Cynthia said she was from New York.

    The couple lived with two young daughters, Katie, 11, and Lisa, 7, in a home on Marquette Road in Montclair that they purchased for $481,000 in the fall of 2008. The two had come to the U.S. in the mid-1990s, first living in an apartment in Hoboken, N.J.

    Cynthia, 39, earned $135,000 a year as a vice president at a Manhattan firm, Morea Financial Services. Alan Patricof, a client of the firm and friend of the Clintons', told The Washington Post he believes he may have been targeted by the ring. Prosecutors said one of her assignments had been to network with Columbia University students.  Her real name is Lydia Guryev.

    Richard, 43, mostly stayed home with the children, neighbors said. His real name is Vladimir Guryev.

    Sources: Star-Ledger, New York Daily News, Politico, The Washington Post

  • Mikhail Kutsik and Natalia Pereverzeva (a.k.a. 'Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills'), Arlington, Va.:

    Image: A view of River House Apartments, where suspected Russian spies Michael Zottoli and his wife Patricia Mills lived in Arlington
    Molly Riley  /  Reuters
    River House Apartments, where Zottoli and Mills lived in Arlington, Va.

    The husband-and-wife pair lived in Seattle before they moved to Arlington, Va. in October 2009. Zottoli, 41, said he was born in Yonkers, N.Y., and Mills, 36, said she was a Canadian citizen. Records show the two moved around several times between 2002 and 2009. Zottoli was an accountant who constantly took personal calls at work, co-workers told the Seattle Times. Mills was a stay-at-home mom for the couple’s toddler, Kenny. There are reports they also have a 1-year-old.

    “They were the nicest people,” said John Evans, the couple's former apartment manager. “In fact, I wish they had stayed on as tenants. They were really good tenants.”

    When their Seattle apartment was searched in February 2006, FBI agents reportedly found password-protected computer disks that contained a “stenography program employed by the SVR.”

    His real name is Mikhail Kutsik. Her real name is Natalia Pereverzeva.

    Sources: KOMO-TV, Washington Post, The Seattle Times

  • Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova (a.k.a. 'Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley'), Cambridge, Mass.:

    Image:Residence owned by Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, who were arrested Sunday by the FBI on allegations of being Russian spies.
    Russell Contreras  /  AP
    Heathfield and Foley's home

    The “Boston Conspirators,” as the FBI dubbed them, identified themselves as French-Canadian when they came to the U.S. in 1999.

    Heathfield, 49, received a master’s from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2000 and worked as a consultant for a Cambridge-based consulting firm called Global Partners Inc — a job that allegedly enabled him to contact a former high-ranking U.S. government national security official. He also had his own consulting company, Future Map Strategic Advisory Services LLC. His real name is Andrey Bezrukov.

    Foley, 47, was a real estate agent who showed houses in the Boston area. She worked on a contract basis for the real estate brokerage Redfin. Her real name is Elena Vavilova.

    They spoke to their two sons, ages 20 and 16, in French when they appeared in court in Boston following the arrests.

    Craig Sandler, a former classmate of Heathfield, told The Boston Globe the Russian spy was friendly and intelligent. Other classmates told The New York Times he had a taste for Scotch and described him as a “flavorful conversationalist” who was smart and funny.

    “It never crossed my mind that he might be a spy,” Sandler said. “But it’s not completely flabbergasting. He seems like a guy who would make a pretty good spy.”

    Sources: Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Harvard Crimson, New York Times

  • Mikhael Semenko, Arlington, Va.:

    Mikhael Semenko, 28, was a travel specialist at Travel All Russia LLC’s in Arlington, Va. He joined the company in 2009 and was described as a friendly and diligent worker who spoke Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, in addition to Russian and English, according to a statement released by the company after his arrest. Semenko’s LinkedIn profile indicates he was particularly interested in non-profits, think tanks, public policy and educational institutions.

    Semenko also has a Twitter account, a Facebook profile, and a blog called “Chinese Economy Today.

    Semenko graduated from Seton Hall University with a degree in international relations in 2008, according to his LinkedIn profile.

    Arrested at his home in Arlington, he was accused of using sophisticated communications equipment and making incriminating statements to an undercover agent posing as a Russian official. According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, FBI officials met Semenko just blocks from the White House, at the intersection of 10th and H Street. “Could we have met in Beijing in 2004?” the undercover agent asked. “Yes, we might have but I believe it was in Harbin,” Semenko reportedly replied.

    See below for other code words and phrases the suspects used.

    Sources: Daily Telegraph, LinkedIn, Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press

  • Christopher R. Metsos, arrested in Cyprus:

    Image: Photo of Robert Christopher Metsos Russian spy
    Cyprus Police / Handout  /  EPA
    Christopher Metsos

    Very little is known about Metsos’ background or current whereabouts.

    Officials said he arrived in the coastal town of Larnaca in Cyprus on June 17 and was arrested June 29 on an Interpol warrant while he was waiting to board a flight to Hungary. A Cyprus judge decided to release Metsos on $33,000 bail. Metsos failed to show up to a required meeting with Larnaca police following his release, initiating a manhunt for the final member of the group of Russian spies.

    Officials fear Metsos could flee to northern Cyprus, which the AP described as a “diplomatic no-mans-land.”

    Metsos, age 54 or 55, carries a Canadian passport and is what U.S. prosecutors called the “money man” of the group. He is accused of receiving and distributing money to the group and of conspiracy to commit money laundering. According to the U.S. Justice Department, he was given payments by a Russian official affiliated with Moscow's mission to the United Nations in a spy novel style "brush-pass" handoff and buried money in rural New York that was recovered two years later by another suspect.

    Sources: The Associated Press

  • Code words, phrases suspects used

    Following are among the phrases used by the alleged agents, their handlers and, deceptively, by U.S. counter-espionage officials in exchanges designed to verify a contact's identity.

    "Excuse me, but haven't we met in California last summer?"

    "No, I think it was the Hamptons."

    "Could we have met in Beijing in 2004?"

    "Yes, we might have, but I believe it was in Harbin"

    "Excuse me, did we meet in Bangkok in April last year?."

    "I don't know about April, but I was in Thailand in May of that year."

    Source: Reuters

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